Thursday, August 28, 2008


Hummus has for a long time been one of my favorite snack foods. When it’s done well it tastes heavenly. Unfortunately, when it’s done poorly it tastes bitter, or like oil. In neither case something you really want to eat. I was having some friends over tonight, and decided I should try my hand at it. I’d never tried before, but the recipes I found online seemed fairly straightforward. I ended up selecting one that was part of a sandwich recipe on epicurious, but I changed it around a little to suit my tastes (as well as doubling it). One thing I did ad was powdered sumac, a slightly tart, Middle-Eastern spice I was able to get at a local specialty store. The Tahini was a little more expensive, but if you live near a decent grocery store that sells it, you will probably do better than I did. Serve this with pita wedges that have been toasted in the oven.


Makes 4 ½ cups

2 16 oz. cans chickpeas (Garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed, juices reserved
4 cloves garlic
½ cup well stirred
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
2 tsp Sumac Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Finely chop the garlic, then mash it into a paste with a pinch of salt.

2. Put the chickpeas, garlic paste, Tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth.

3. Add 6 Tbs of the reserved chickpea juice (use water if you didn't save it), the parsley, the sumac powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse to combine.

4. Enjoy

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

One Year in the Making.

This weekend I made a cake that has taken me close to year to develop. I came up with the idea back when there was a cupcake roundup based on reinvention, coming up with a cupcake based upon something else. I tossed some ideas around, and came up with the idea of a Snickers cupcake. Of course, this became immediately problematic, seeing as at the time I didn’t know how to make nougat, or caramel. As it turns out, it doesn’t seem like many people know how to make nougat, it’s not a very common thing. As my cooking skills developed, I tried making my own snickers bars a couple of times. At first I tried the recipe from The bars came out ok, but I thought both the nougat and the caramel turned out too hard though (sort of tooth brakingly hard). A made a second attempt based on the recipe from Recipe Gullet. The nougat from this recipe was way too soft and crumbly, it wouldn’t hold together. What I did learn from both of these attempts is that nougat sets fast. This ultimately convinced me that cupcakes might be impossible, because the nougat would harden before it could be divided into individual cupcakes.

That led me to the idea of a snickers cake. The cake is comprised of a layer of flourless chocolate cake, a layer of nougat, and a layer of caramel mousse, all topped off with chocolate ganache. The result was delicious. I found it was best to treat the cake as if it were an ice cream cake. When it came to room temperature, the mousse was too soft to stay together. I’ve included a number of suggestions on the assembly learned from my mistakes. Unfortunately I haven’t tried them myself, so I can’t swear that they will help. Unfortunately the pictures of this didn't end up super appetizing, because I was taking them while trying to serve the cake at a party. Trust me that it was good.

I should add that this cake was inspired by my mother, whose favorite candy bar is the Snickers.

Snickers Cake

Makes 1 ten inch cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a ten inch spring-form pan and line the bottom with parchment. Melt the butter and chocolate over low heat in a saucepan. Once it is melted, put it aside.

2. Sift together the sugar and the cocoa powder. Whisk in the eggs until fully combined.

3. Pour the Chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.

4. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

5. Let the cake cool completely. Run a knife around the edge of the cake, and remove the outside of the pan.

6. I removed the top third of the cake which I found was a little crusty. I was hoping to use this layer for the top of the cake, but it promptly fell apart. I still thought that this left the better part of the cake for the base, so I recommend it. DO NOT REMOVE THE CAKE FROM THE BASE OF THE SPRINGFORM PAN.

7. Butter the ring of the springform pan (I didn’t do this part, and the nougat stuck, even to my non-stick pan), and put the ring back around the cake. Set aside.


This didn’t end up quite like a nougat because it wasn’t aerated enough. I don’t know if this was because I increased the number of egg whites, the decreased temperature of the sugar, (both attempts to make the nougat softer), or because I didn’t whip it enough after the sugar went in (trying to use it before the nougat set and couldn’t be spread without destroying the cake). Either way, it still tasted like it should have, just not quite the right texture.

¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
2 large egg whites
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
½ tsp vanilla

1. Mix the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Begin heating the mixture over medium high heat.

2. The goal is to get the egg whites to stiff peaks at around the same time the sugar reaches 266 degrees. I would start whipping the egg whites when the sugar shows around 200 degrees on the candy thermometer.

3. Once the egg whites are at stiff peaks, and the sugar syrup is at 266 degrees, with the mixer still on high speed, pour the sugar into the egg white mixture in a thin stream. Continue beating on high speed to aerate.

4. Add the peanut butter and vanilla with the mixer still on. Once combined, turn off the mixer and pour the nougat onto the cake in the spring-form pan. Spread the nougat very gently, or you will risk tearing the cake apart. Set aside. Once the nougat is cool, run a knife around the inside edge to make sure it hasn’t stuck to the sides of the pan.

Caramel Mousse

1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
4 Tbs ( ½ stick) salted butter
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup lightly salted peanuts.

1. Put ½ cup of the heavy cream into a small saucepan or a microwave safe bowl. Reserve the remaining cream in the fridge to whip later. Heat the cream, but do not boil it. This will help prevent the caramel from bubbling up later.

2. Combine the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium high heat until the caramel reaches a uniform dark brown color.

3. Remove the caramel from the heat and pour in the heated cream, and the butter. Mix with a wooden spoon to prevent clumping. Set aside and allow the caramel to come to room temperature.

4. Whip the remaining 1 ½ cups of cream to stiff peaks. Mix 1/3 of the whipped cream into the caramel to lighten it. Pour the caramel into the remaining cream and fold to combine until it is uniform. Fold in the peanuts.

5. Pour the mousse over the nougat. Level with an offset spatula. Place the cake in the freezer to set, at least 30 minutes.

Chocolate Ganache

1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate

1 cup heavy cream

1. Combine the chocolate and the heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds, then let the mixture stand for 10 seconds before attempting to mix. Repeat until you are able to mix the cream and chocolate into a smooth and uniform mixture.

2. Let the ganache cool for ten minutes. While you are doing this remove the cake from the fridge and unmold it. Before removing the edges of the spring-form pan, you may want to run a knife along the inside to make sure nothing sticks, because if something does stick, you again risk tearing your cake apart.

3. Place the cake on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet. Begin pouring the ganache over the cake. The ganache hardens pretty quickly once it hits the freezing cake, so work quickly, smoothing with an offset spatula as you go. To cover the sides of the cake, just pour some ganache near the edges and use your spatula to encourage the ganache to run down the sides (this is why the cookie sheet is there).

4. Put the whole thing back into the freezer until you are ready to serve.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

1 Year Cupcakeaversary!

This is not the one year anniversary of my having started this blog, which was only a few months ago. Rather, today (Sunday, August 24) is the one year anniversary of my having made my first cupcake! (I know because I never delete e-mails, and so could look up the e-mail about the potluck from a year ago). I had just started law school, and the peer advisors had organized a potluck for our section (the group of students with whom we have all our first year classes). I signed up to make a dessert. At this point I didn’t really know anyone, and was still trying to make friends, so I decided on something guaranteed to make people friendly: cupcakes. This is not to say that I had never baked before, I had made my fair share of cookies and brownies, and done a fair amount of simple cooking, but that was it. I decided to make cupcake-cones from a recipe I saw on Cupcake Bakeshop (the first food blog I had ever seen). Truthfully, I wasn’t a huge fan of the cake in the recipe, it wasn’t chocolaty enough, but it was a hit none-the-less. Hard to believe only a year ago I had never separated an egg-white, never made a caramel or a custard, and never even considered making my own recipe, much less photographing my food or running my own blog. It’s amazing how much can change in just a year.

Anyway, to celebrate my cupcakeaversary, I decided to make cupcake-cones again. This time I used the chocolate butter cake recipe from Cakelove, which I like a lot (it makes a rich and chocolaty cake), but I stuck with the original American buttercream frosting posted on Cupcake Bakeshop. Since I was taking these to a friend’s house, I didn’t frost them at home (transporting them is a pain). Instead I brought the frosting in airtight containers and let people frost their own cupcakes as they pleased. Here is the recipe I used:

Cupcake Cones

Makes ~24 cones

7 oz (1 ¼ + 2 Tbs) AP flour
2 oz (1/2 cup) unsweetend cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup half-and-half
2 Tbs Triple Sec (I couldn’t taste it in there at all, might just add a little half and half instead)
1 Tbs Vanilla Extract
6 oz (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
14 oz (1 ¾ cup) extra-fine granulated sugar
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper, do not grease the sides of the pans.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

3. Whisk together the half and half, frangelico, and vanilla together.

4. On low speed, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar for 3 – 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporated after each addition.

6. Add about 1/5 of the dry ingredients, then 1/5 of the wet ingredients, and continue alternating, ending with the dry ingredients. Do this step quickly to prevent over-mixing of the batter. Don’t wait for full incorporation between additions.

7. Fill each cone just to the brim of the central hole (before the opening gets wider from the lip). Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

8. Cool the cupcakes completely

Chocolate and Vanilla Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar (more if you want the frosting even stiffer, cupcake bakeshop calls for up to 7 cups!)

¼ cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

¼ cup cocoa powder.

1. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the butter. Add the powdered sugar and beat to combine.

2. Add the milk and vanilla, beat to combine.

3. Remove and reserve half of the frosting. This is the vanilla frosting.

4. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining frosting, and beat to combine. This is the chocolate frosting.

5. Frost the cupcakes, adorn with sprinkles if you like.

As a little kick, here is the photo I took of the first cupcakes I made. My mom asked me to send a picture. Here is what she wrote back when she saw the photo: “Love the cupcakes. Long on style; short on presentation. Good thing you're studying the stylist not your thing.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Piece Of Cake

Sorry about my disappearance over the past week. Law School has started up again, and I have both interviews and a cite check this week, which is making for a lot of work. Hopefully it won’t be this way for the whole semester (I don’t imagine it will be), but for the next week or so expect me to be a little scarce.

Believe it or not, I’ve never made a layer cake before. However, for the past month or so, I’ve really been having an itch to take that next step and make a layer cake. The arrival of my new cookbook Cakelove by Warren Brown seemed like a good excuse. I decided to make a chocolate-hazelnut cake. For some reason I had this imagine in my mind that the process was straightforward. That it was just a matter of making some layers, stacking them up with frosting in between, and then covering the whole thing with a nice coat. While the individual steps were pretty straightforward, baking the cake layers was simple, as were the filling and the frosting. But putting them together turned out to be a challenge. I baked two cakes, and decided to make a four layer cake (with each cake I had baked cut in half). The first layer was simple, put it down, brush it with sugar syrup, glop on some chocolate pastry cream and some candied hazelnuts, and put on the next layer. However, I quickly discovered that as the cake warmed up, the filling was prone to leak out of the sides. So I began refrigerating the cake between the application of layers. Finally I had all my layers on, but my cake looked lopsided. When I looked at it from the top, it looked like one of the layers was bigger than the others, something that ought to be impossible. Then I figured it out, one of my layers had broken! Some generous applications of filling helped a little, but the cake continued to be lopsided. I was convinced the cake was going to end up chopped into a trifle. But, I put it in the fridge to cool before applying the crumb layer.

Once the cake was cool enough, it came time to apply the outer frosting, a chocolate Italian meringue buttercream. A generous crumb coat helped to stabilize the cake, and make it more appealing. Eventually A complete, and totally uneven coating of frosting (to fill the holes), made the cake substantially more appealing, at least from the outside. At some places, the frosting was close to an inch thick, but in others less than a centimeter. The cake still didn’t look professional, but it looked passable. Then it came time to decorate the cake. It was my roommate’s birthday, so I decided to write happy birthday on top. Unfortunately, even my regular handwriting is not the prettiest, and while what I wrote on the cake was legible, it didn’t quite fit, and looked more like it had been written by a gorilla that had been taught to mime writing. I was impressed with how the border turned out. A really close evaluation would have shown that it was pretty irregular, but no one looked that closely.

As for taste, I really liked the cake part. I also thought the chocolate-hazelnut pastry cream filling as delicious. It was sort of like a thick, super chocolaty pudding. The only part of the cake I was disappointed with was the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream. I thought when it was cold it really tasted mostly like butter.

Warren Brown strongly recommends using a scale instead of the standard volume measurements, which I did. But I have provided (from Warren Brown) both weights and volumes of the relevant ingredients. He also strongly recommended using 22-24 cocoa powder (a higher cocoa fat percentage). I used it, but can’t say I did a comparison between the two different types, so I can’t say for sure.

This cake is also going to be my entry to the layers of cake event being hosted by QuirkyCupcake.

Chocolate Butter Cake

Makes 2 9 inch cake pans

7 oz (1 ¼ + 2 Tbs) AP flour
2 oz (1/2 cup) unsweetend cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup half-and-half
2 Tbs Frangelico
1 Tbs Vanilla Extract
6 oz (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
14 oz (1 ¾ cup) extra-fine granulated sugar
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper, do not grease the sides of the pans.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

3. Whisk together the half and half, frangelico, and vanilla together.

4. On low speed, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar for 3 – 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporated after each addition.

6. Add about 1/5 of the dry ingredients, then 1/5 of the wet ingredients, and continue alternating, ending with the dry ingredients. Do this step quickly to prevent over-mixing of the batter. Don’t wait for full incorporation between additions.

7. Fill each of the cake pans up about 2/3 of the way. Bake for ~28 minutes, or until the cake is solid in the middle, a uniform color, and a tester comes out clean.

8. Allow each cake to cool completely on a cooling rack, before running a paring knife between the edge of the cake and the pan, and inverting onto a flat surface.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Pastry Cream

This recipe uses a lot of sugar, which Brown says is necessary to insulate the cocoa during the cooking. It really doesn’t make the filling overly sweet though.

2 cups whole milk
3 oz (2/3 cup) blanched hazelnuts
3 eggs
7 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
25 oz (3 cups + 1 Tbs) sugar
2 oz (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs AP flour
¼ cup potato starch
8 Tbs (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven Put the milk and hazelnuts in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, over medium-high heat. Bring the milk to a boil. Remove from the heat, and let the hazelnuts steep in the milk for 10 minutes.

2. Strain the hazelnuts, reserve the milk. Toss the hazelnuts with 1 oz of sugar, put on a foil covered baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until just toasted. Reserve.

3. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar and starch. Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.

4. Whisk together the egg and flour mixtures. It will thicken as you mix.

5. Return the milk to a simmer again. Once it reaches a simmer, pour it in a slow stream into the yolk mixture, whisking in small circles, ending in broader strokes until fully combined.

6. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and place it over medium heat. Whisk the mixture constantly but slowly. Make sure to keep the pastry cream moving.

7. Cook the pastry cream for about 4 minutes (it took a lot longer than that for me). Large bubbles should begin to burst on the surface. Turn the heat down to low and begin whisking the mixture rapidly to pasteurize it. The mixture is ready when it has changed from a light brown color to a rich, dark chocolate color (it seems improbably, then all of a sudden it happens).

8. Remove the mixture from the heat, and pour it into a non-reactive bowl (preferably stainless steel). Whisk the butter into the pastry cream one Tablespoon at a time.

9. Press a plastic wrap directly onto the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming and immediately refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream

When making this, the goal is to have the egg whites reach stiff peaks at the same time the syrup comes to the right temperature.

5 large egg whites
10 oz (1 ¼ cups) extra fine granulated sugar
¼ cup cold water
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup bittersweet chocolate.

1. Put the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and set aside.

2. Measure one cup of sugar and the water into a 1 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat. Mix them together. Place a candy thermometer in the pan, and partially cover with a lid.

3. Begin whipping the egg whites on high speed. When it reaches stiff peaks, add the remaining ¼ cup sugar.

4. If the egg whites reach stiff peaks before the sugar is up to 245 degrees turn up the heat. Once the sugar reaches 245 degrees, remove it from the heat and slowly pour it into the egg whites, with the mixer still on the highest speed.

5. Beat mixture at high speed for 1-2 minutes, then reduce the speed to medium and beat for 3-4 more minutes.

6. Begin adding the butter a tablespoon at a time. Once all the butter is in, increase the speed to high for 1-2 minutes to fully incorporate.

7. Reserve 1 cup of the frosting for decorating. Beat the melted chocolate into the remaining frosting.

8. Refrigerate if not using immediately, but rewhip for a minute before applying to the cake.

Sugar Syrup

16 oz (2 cups) sugar
1 ¼ cups sugar

1. Mix the water and the sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a light simmer, but not to a boil.

2. Put in the fridge until the mixture reaches room temperature.


1. Cut each cake in half, so that you have four layers. Place a dab of filling on your plate, and place the bottom layer on it.

2. Use a pastry brush to dab the cake with the sugar syrup, do not brush, or you risk pulling crumbs off the cake, cover all the surfaces of your cake with it.

3. Place some filling onto the bottom layer. Spread it out, leaving a border of at least an inch around the edge of the cake. Sprinkle some candied hazelnuts onto the filling.

4. Take the next layer, cut side up, and dab it with the sugar syrup. Spread a smaller amount of filling onto the layer. Flip it onto the bottom layer, sandwiching the hazelnuts in the filling,

5. Repeat this process until the top layer of the cake is on. You may need to refrigerate the cake at points to prevent the filling from leaking out. Once all the layers are on the cake, refrigerate for 10 minutes.

6. Spread ¼ cup of the Italian meringue buttercream over the whole outside of the cake. This is the crumb layer, it is meant to seal the cake. Refrigerate the cake for another 20 minutes.

7. Spread the remaining buttercream over the outside of the cake evenly, using an offset spatula.

8. Mix coloring gel into the decorating frosting, and decorate the cake as you please.